Charlottesville’s public transit alternatives to car travel highlight accessibility and sustainability issues – The Cavalier Daily
With recent punishments on Russian energy booster the cost of crude oil—and therefore gas prices in Charlottesville and elsewhere—public transportation has become a leading alternative to less affordable and less sustainable individual modes of transportation, such as cars. While it’s unclear how long gasoline prices will remain high, retail gasoline prices could continue to rise, leading Charlottesville residents to rely on more sustainable methods of transportation, such as buses, which may not provide fair transportation for all residents.
According to a study published in 2014, gas price increases above $3 per gallon affect public transit ridership in the United States. Gasoline prices topped $4 a gallon in March, and this may already be reflected by increase in daily public transit ridership.
The uncertainty of future oil prices and car-dependent transport provide an opportunity to simultaneously address environmental sustainability and the accessibility of transport alternatives. When car engines use gasoline and other forms of fuel, they release carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. While greenhouse gases are needed to absorb and reflect heat back to Earth, post-industrial revolution carbon emissions have amplified the effect, raising Earth’s average temperatures to levels harmful to natural life.
Conversely, individuals can decrease considerably carbon dioxide emissions and potentially save money by taking the bus instead of driving a car. In Charlottesville, there are several public transport services with varying fares and routes, such as the Afton Express, Jaunt CONNECT bus, vanpools through Enterprise and Charlottesville Area Transit. Some services like Jaunt are free, while others like Afton Express charge a monthly cost of $88 per month. In response to rising gas prices, U.Va. Parking and transportation provided a summary local transportation options and savings over car travel, including savings of up to $299 per month with Jaunt, a fixed-route shuttle service serving Albemarle and neighboring counties.
Andrew Mondschein, associate professor of urban and environmental planning, said these transportation options are only viable for Charlottesville residents if they are accessible in the first place.
“We always look at public transit as a kind of social safety net, and that’s a very important thing to do,” Mondschein said. “But at the same time, what we’ve heard in our focus groups is that if he doesn’t recognize that people have a right to access the same kinds of destinations…it’s actually going to lead to worse results when the system is less usable. ”
As detailed in the 2020 Charlottesville Transportation Equity and Accessibility Assessment co-authored by Mondschein, accessibility is the ability to connect people to the specific places they need to go, whether for groceries, work, health care or other vital needs. . The assessment incorporated input from community members through focus groups and interviews with regional and transportation leaders. Some of Mondschein to research on transportation equity and accessibility highlights weaknesses in Charlottesville’s transportation systems, such as insufficient roads to the U.Va. Health system, insufficient infrastructure — such as sidewalks and street crossings — and low affordability.
Because of these structural weaknesses in Charlottesville’s transportation systems, Mondschein points out that people may not have reliable transportation to get to work or other places they need to be. While some services such as Stroll expanded access to provide free service to Americans with Disabilities Act certified passengers, 24.1% of Charlottesville residents live below the poverty line, and solutions to inadequate transportation can still be a financial barrier.
Mondschein also explained that there could be increased demand for responsive transport to fill gaps in bus schedules. However, if these systems require digital financial transactions, residents without reliable internet access or credit cards may not be able to obtain emergency transportation.
Additionally, while residents are encouraged to opt for more sustainable transportation methods, Mondschein said transportation rebates and policies in Charlottesville do not specifically increase accessibility for those who need transportation the most.
“The types of discounts we offer and the types of subsidies we offer are always aimed at making driving cheaper,” Mondschein said. “The city is still considering building more parking lots in downtown Charlottesville to meet a perceived economic need to support these businesses with drivers.”
As gas prices continue to rise, people are left with two main options – cut back on their trips or cut the amount of money on other necessities and sources of expenses. For those dependent on the car to get around because public transportation is financially or physically inaccessible, there may not be environmentally friendly or financially available options, especially in Charlottesville.
For University students and faculty, UTS continues to monitor the use of its services. According to Patrick Clark, Director of Mobility and Alternative Transportation of Parking and Transportation, and Rebecca White, Director of Parking and Transportation, UTS is largely designed to support those around and on the ground.
“We run our service in a very compact service area, a very small service area and do very frequent service in that service area, and we’re looking at around 30 passengers per hour,” White said.
Prior to the pandemic closures, UTS used bus routes during certain hours of the night, but switched to Safe Ride due to lower demand for bus services, which reduced the carbon footprint of their services transport. However, demand has increased as COVID-19 regulations have eased.
“We had to take a step back and see how best to meet that demand,” Clark said. “Based on pick-up and drop-off locations…we can determine what the common travel patterns were and at what times of the night.”
Since then, UTS has reinstated overnight routes and settled on a mixed-model system, where fixed routes align with high-density travel routes, and on-demand van services cover the remaining routes. to better meet increased demand. While they initially had about ten hubs for the OnDemand service, they have since expanded to fifty hubs.
“Six out of seven nights we had an improvement in trip completion, and seven out of seven nights we had a significant reduction in wait time,” White said.
Additionally, scooters are available around the Grounds and in Charlottesville, providing a convenient transportation option between UTS routes in Charlottesville. While UTS may be more limited above ground, transportation services like the Virginia Breeze or Amtrak bus lines remain available between Charlottesville and Washington, D.C.
“We realize it’s not easy to really see how your needs fit into these options,” White said. “We’re really trying to reverse that and think about it from a passenger perspective.”
In general, sustainable transportation policies in Charlottesville and elsewhere depend on local residents’ needs, physical accessibility, affordability, and urban infrastructure, among other factors. If gas prices continue to rise, the viability of current transportation options in Charlottesville may vary significantly for different groups of people.